tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 11, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with actor keanu reeves, the star of many films, including "the matrix" trilogy, and hank -- he has a new documentary about filmmaking called "side by side,"which compares moviemaking now to the more traditional art form. and he has his directing debut. a conversation with keanu reeves comes up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to as we work together, we can
stamp hunger out. you. thank you. -- and by contributions by viewers like you. thank you. tavis: please welcome "-- keanu reeves to this program, the star of many programs, including, of course, "the matrix" trilogy, which is out now with a terrific new documentary about the changing nature of filmmaking. the project is called "side by side." he serves as both producer and
narrator. he are some scenes. >> are you done? >> i think i am. >> we are going through a very significant and a large transition in cinema, and the digital process does the whole thing. >> without the video culture, i do not think i would have been making this, because you have to have some kind of knowledge. you have to know how to operate machines to do this job. >> i am always looking for whatever is new to push the art form further, to be able to make the thing you could not envision the day before. >> a superior imaging technology to film. it is in transition. >> the two images to exist. >> correct. >> film has been dead in my heart for 10 years. >> i hate 3d.
i put on those glasses, i get sick to my stomach. it is a telemarketing scheme. >> i felt i should call them on the phone and say, "i have met someone." it is different. >> how is it different? how do you use it to tell a story? it is up to the filmmaker. tavis: first of all, i am honored to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: so much to talk about, and i would jump right into that, but i figure if my mother does not understand, then the conversation does not get liftoff. >> right. tavis: so for those who do not get the difference between digital and film, let's explain that. >> ok. what we are talking about is we are pretty much in the context of talking about the impact of digital cinema through editorial, through visual effects, through exhibition, so
how do you project it, and then, for me, which was the emotional connection, the digital camera. tavis: mm-hmm. >> and when we talk about the way movies used to be made, it was hundreds of years of film, literal, physical film, with emotion, that we would expos to light and get pictures, and it would basically take photons and hit a sensor that would turn it into impulses, and instead of it hitting film, it would hit a sensor, and instead of a chemical reaction happening, you basically get ones and zeros, and you get a value for a color, red, green, or blue, and then there was some light, and we are
talking about sunlight hitting a sensor and going to ones and zeros, and we project that, and now we are watching a movie. tavis: so another one of these technological advances. >> yes. tavis: you pause when you said yes, and i want to dig into that. i ask whether it is really a technological advance. obviously, it could be argued in some ways that it is advancing us, but it is causing challenges in other ways? >> well, it is an industry shift, practically, it is like what is the world of the cinematographer in making a movie now? he used to be in control of the image. you know, he was a magician. he knew how to do, just dealing with exposure for film, and he was the one he knew, where she was the one, and now, that
image, now, digitally, it is on the monitor. everybody can look at it. now, it is like, "cinematographer, i do not know. that is not looking so good right there." "it is a little dark of their." so it becomes more of a collaborative art, and in terms of the impact, camera makers have stopped making film cameras. i just want to back up a little bit. in terms of when i was explaining the digital part of that, computers, computing, computing power, so for visual effects, where you used to film stop-motion or doing models, now it is just in the computer. when we talk about films like "avatar," james cameron, there is not one frame of a real jungle, so now he can do
whatever he can dream. digital has opened up the world of possibilities to filmmakers and artists, whereas before, you cannot fill the, you cannot, you know? so that is a very exciting time, and to come back around to your question, what have we -- what are we losing? what have we gained, and what are we losing? the documentary takes you through the work flow of the movie, so if you love movies, and you are watching it, it kind of hold your hand and says, "this is editorial." hopefully, when you watch a film, you will have -- for me, my ambition and hope is that you would have a richer appreciation of what you're looking for and to enjoy movies in a different way, but what are we losing? it is 100 years of how we did things, you know, the big screen, film. it is gone. and artists are losing the choice to use film.
people have a love for it, the grain, how it feels, the texture, and now, it is, you know, christopher nolan, the director of "batman" films, as an example, he was saying that artists are being forced to make a change that is not as good as film. take this digital camera. "well, it is cheaper, it is faster, it is lighter, it is quicker, " and he says, "but it is not as good." "yes, but it is cheaper, it is faster, it is quicker." tavis: [laughs] >> and i kept asking how much longer, so what that means is when you go to the movies now, you will not see a photochemicals projection, and some people will say, "that is great. there will be no scratches."
it is digitally perfect, but there are some people who will say, "but it is not as rich." are you getting an inferior project? and with distribution, we are seeing different ways of storytelling. you can still in it. on demand, on a computer, people watching movies on their ipad or their phone, everything, so how is that changing? tavis: you mentioned earlier, and, obviously, you are right about this, it is a transition that the industry is undergoing, but to your earlier point, there is a debate about this. you talked about some great directors, some of the names which have already come up in the conversation. how would you characterize the debate that is happening in the business, or is it much ado about nothing, given that it is the way of the future, and there may be a few holdouts, but the debate -- is the debate meaningful at this point?
>> it depends on who you are asking. i think, i do not know, maybe it is nostalgia, maybe, but the choice, losing the choice to be able to use film is going to be -- i mean, it is gone. it is going to be gone. of course, like you said, some artists, some people will be able to choose to use film, but, i do not know, maybe it is just romantic or not, but it is, it is gone. i mean, it is not completely, but it is changing. all of the projection. the studios, hollywood, they do not have to pay for the prince. they do not have to ship the prince. -- the prints. tavis: in the documentary, somebody made the point that what this does is it democratizes the process. i think george lucas is the one
who said that. it democratizes the process. do you agree with that? >> absolutely, yes, absolutely. on different -- you know, we are looking at different still cameras that had different andabilities, the dslr's, filmmakers were like, "wow, if i put a lens on this, i can shoot a video and make a movie." the means of production are so much less expensive. the quality of what you are getting now is becoming fantastic. i mean, you can put almost professional lenses on these cameras. so, yes, it is cheaper, and if it is cheaper and more accessible and takes less technicians, "i do not need all of these people" -- tavis: that means you do not need all of these people. is that a good thing? >> is that a bad thing?
tavis: there are enough bad films being made in this down. i am all for democratizing the process. but i think there is a price to pay for that. it is like a blogosphere. everybody is created equal, because everybody can go out there and express themselves, some character, and we do not know who you really are, a bunch of cowards -- i am sorry. i got carried away there for a second. but the point is, if it is democratized and anybody can do it, does that mean we are going to have greater access to better film? i am not sure i believe that. >> yes, who knows? i do not know the law. the kind of quantity and quality, but i did the opportunity of people being able to express themselves and to have the means of production is a great thing. you know, and it is also changing how we are telling
stories. the serialization through the internet or through digital portals means ways of communicating, and i think that is great. i think the form, the hollywood movie, i think the quality is obviously all is going to be there, and i think that the question of taste, there is always a question of taste -- tavis: right. >> but it is really an exciting time for storytellers and for people to get their story out, so that is kind of course, whether we like it or not. -- that is kind of cool. whether we like it or not. tavis: i wonder, if this technology were available to you at the start of your now three- decade career as an actor, whether you might have made different choices, whether or night -- not you might have jumped behind the camera before you did.
how might this technology, had it been around 30 years ago, impacted keanu reeves' career choices? >> no, i do not think. if there was a great story to tell, if i had the opportunity to play this role or to work with such and such, i do not think -- the idea of, like, well, "i am shooting digital." "i cannot do that. no, no, i do not want to act on digital." i was thinking, what would "my own private idaho" would have been like if that was digitized. i do not know. it becomes quantum, does it not, because you cannot know, you cannot project those ideas, but, personally, i do not think so. tavis: so what then, and personal question, what got you then interested in this particular subject matter, to the point of spending all of this time to do a documentary
about it? >> yes, i was doing a post on a film called "henry's crime" that i was involved in, and there comes a time -- i was in new york at technicolor, and we were doing a process that is explained in the documentary called "d.i.," or color correction. so we shot the movie on film. they stand it, digitized it, and then they start working on the color, ballots in all of the edits and everything together digitally, and then there comes a time when they are like, ok, we have got this great digital image now on the screen. now we have to match it back to film, photochemicals film, so behind you is a colorist, and a timer, and the cinematographer was showing the images for a commercial, and then the director was saying to me, "yes, i have been shooting it digitally," and i was talking to
the guy at technicolor, saying that the business was changing, and i was working with chris kenneally, director of the documentary, in post, he was working on the film, and i was looking around, and i had the moment where film is going away, this is all going to change, this is already changing, and that hit me, and i guess because i grew up with film, i wanted to go on an expedition to find out what that meant and what was the impact of digital, you know, why -- where did we come from? where are we going? and where are we today? tavis: i have had similar conversations. you are the first person to really dig into a documentary about this, but i am glad that you did. i have the honor to talk to a lot of folks in this very chair about this issue. james cameron and i had a great
conversation about this one night on this program. danny boyle and i had a great conversation about this one night on the program. you mentioned "avatar" early in this conversation, so i get back. it is true that a lot of what we see coming of hollywood is not real. i mean, it is hollywood. nothing is really real in that sense, but i wonder how it ultimately impacts the movie profession, the actors. i mean, you are in front of and behind the camera these days. one day, you could be completely written out, if everything is "avatar" like, and you get to create characters, and nothing is as it appears, what does it do for people? >> a virtual actors. the idea of real becomes even,
it just starts going, because the artificiality can be presented so real, and that has always been the case, but now it really is. in terms of -- you know, i hope i do not become just an animation. tavis: [laughs] >> we were talking about the materiality of things, that something exists. when something does not exist anymore. it is like in a box. you cannot shine a light through it. it is not there, and the experience of doing it, living to edit and cut and have contact, to changing the rolls of film, to hearing the [makes film noise], in a human way, there is some kind of contacts,
a reality to that that there is something really, physically capturing us, whoever, however we are in the light, low light, whatever, something is actually there, and when it is digital, it is a recreation of this event, and i do not know if -- it is a different version of río, isn't it? i am sure in it -- we are seeing that in printing, you know, just a loss of books into digital, subcontinent is there, but the object is not. well, an object is, but it is not the independence of it, and i do not know if that is philosophy or if that is something else, but, to me, it has an emotional feeling to it, that this materiality, the loss of the materiality. tavis: i feel like i am getting lost in the matrix right about now. [laughter] >> i do not know.
is like -- i do not know. it is like a contact with your medium, you know? like if you shake hands. it is flesh and blood, a contact, you know? tavis: mm-hmm. >> if we have a simulation, if something is there, and then we kind of have our avatars, we are sharing an idea of, like, let's shake hands, but we have not. i think that is something that is changing. tavis: i wonder if how do i phrase this? >> cameron just be laughing at me right now. he would be like," andreeves, come on. i spend hours," but this is a different person. i am sorry to interrupt. tavis: i have some thoughts
about this push to digital, and if not be pushed to, the overwhelming in brace of has to do with the fact that audiences are getting hotter and harder and harder to impress, so it is not so much even about great storytelling. i am not trying to bash the industry that you are a part of. it is not that we are not getting great story is told anymore, it is that you do not even have to do that. if you have got a great story, it is told digitally well, in the impress people, then god bless you, but i wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that audiences are just harder and harder to unprecedented, and if you can play these tricks and games and do all of this mimicry with digital, why not? about this old school, old-line filmmaking? >> i do not know. "batman" was shot on film. but there are still digital
effects in that. i do not know. that is the idea of the audience. what is spectacle? what is spectacle playing the part of entertainment? you know, what are we looking for proof -- looking for? martin scorsese talks about young people not believing the image anymore. i do not quite the implications of that, but that ties in to me something about the idea, entertainment, but that happens, as well, in traditional film making as well, the ambition to go further, imagistically, to do the impossible. i think that is part of the film. but i think we are also just talking about the literacy of the audience. the visual literacy of the audience. they have seen so many images now, especially in the states. there is so much to look at, to
watch, so the visual storytelling literacy, it is harder to impress. tavis: you talked earlier about the fact -- my time is running here, so i have to do this quickly -- you talked earlier about the fact that this digital makes the project in many ways much more collaborative, and this is inside baseball, but over the years, i have come to appreciate what cinematographers do. i appreciate costumers. all of those folks that you see at the end of the movie, is this the fall of cinematographers? >> certainly, in the early days, it was the folk, because it was not good enough. -- it was the foe. the technical side of the camera is improving. that is becoming less of the issue, from some of the cinematographers i have spoken to. and also, the other issue to
them is who controls the image, right? so in that role is the colorist, and he is changing the color, and then is when it goes to the effects, what does it look like? once it starts going into the cinemas, to be blu-ray, the time spent is getting more and more involved for the cinematographer. tavis: i have got 30 seconds to go. can you just tell me a quick word about the "tai chi" project? >> yes, thank you. i directed a film called "man of time sheet -- did a man of tai chi -- "man of tai chi." tavis: your directorial debut. >> yes. a colorful movie that we shot in beijing and hong kong, and i
played the villain. there is unlovely actor named -- a lovely actor named chen hu, tiger chen. >> all you have to do is sit kong food film. that is it. kung fu film with keanu reeves. glad to have you on this program. that is our show for this time. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. conversation with former secretary of state colin powell, on his book "it works for me." that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have work to do.